I heart the Fairmont hotel chain!

February 10, 2009


I’ve loved Fairmont ever since the lovely Toronto publicist Melanie Coates emailed me a few years ago, offering to sneak me into their kitchen and show me their crazy organic waste disposal system — it basically involves a conveyor belt and a huge slop bucket — which had been in place years before the city’s Green Bin composting program started (also, when it comes to excess food, the hotel is a big contributor to Second Harvest).

As I would later learn, this chain has been into the environmental scene since the late 1980s; Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York hotel has a full rooftop garden (which is beautiful and full of berries, vegetables and herbs) as well as three fully operating beehives, a restaurant menu focused on local, sustainable food and wine, policies about not cleaning towels and linens every day, discounts for employees who take public transit or ride bikes to work, and on, and on, and on.

Now, they’ve taken yet another step, and it’s one that I’m pretty sure no other hotel (at least in this city) has done:

Serving only sustainably raised and caught seafood.

This is huge. I have one of those Seachoice cards in my wallet and even still I find it impossible to find fish that isn’t on an endangered list, or full of mercury, or shipped from a million miles away. It’s one thing to offer local, grass-fed burgers at a restaurant, but honestly, sustinable seafood is NOT easy, so I fully commend Fairmont for attempting this.

Here’s the official press release:


TORONTO, February 5, 2009 – As a pioneering voice on environmental stewardship within the hospitality industry, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is proud to announce an extension of its brand-wide Green Cuisine program to include sustainable seafood choices in support of a global effort to conserve precious marine species.

As the latest environmental initiative undertaken by the brand, Fairmont’s hotels and resorts worldwide will remove threatened fish species like Chilean Sea Bass and Blue Fin Tuna from their restaurant menus and will also align themselves locally with reputable seafood watch organizations, ensuring guests continue to be provided with a comprehensive selection of sustainable seafood choices. By Spring 2009, Fairmont’s seafood purchases will be made with the guidance and consultation of these well-respected groups and in consortium with local suppliers.

Put into practice, Fairmont’s commitment to ocean sustainability means working with reputable suppliers who purchase fish that are resilient to fishing pressure and harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats.  Specifically, Fairmont has identified two seafood choices that are most at risk – and has eliminated them from its food service operations. They include:

Chilean Sea Bass – also called Patagonia Tooth, this is a long-life  fish, meaning it does not reproduce quickly.  Due to worldwide popularity of this  menu item, their numbers have been dwindling dramatically from illegal and  aggressive fishing.

Blue Fin Tuna – heavily over-fished in international waters, the plight  of this species is so serious that the World Conservation Union lists Southern  Blue Fin Tuna in its grouping of most threatened wildlife.  Their numbers have declined by 97%  over the last four decades.

In the face of these findings, Fairmont will no longer serve these two fish varieties on menus and will also make it easier for guests to make informed food choices by identifying responsible seafood choices on its restaurant menus. The end result: healthier practices flowing down to suppliers, who then offer better choices to restaurants.  In addition, by promoting awareness and sustainable alternatives among its guests, Fairmont will play a role in influencing and shaping the tastes and preferences of guests who care about the future of the planet.

Already, a number of Fairmonts have taken up the sustainable seafood call.  Mexico’s Fairmont Mayakoba has partnered with local communities in a nearby biosphere to purchase lobster that is sustainably harvested.  To date, the resort has purchased more than 4.8 tons of the lobster, which comes with a certificate affirming the lobsters have been locally sourced in a responsible fashion. On Hawaii’s Big Island, The Fairmont Orchid goes to great lengths to purchase locally sourced seafood and actively participates in regional moratoriums on any threatened fish stocks. And in Vancouver, The Fairmont Waterfront and The Fairmont Vancouver Airport have joined the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, a conservation platform created to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. Ocean-friendly menu options at The Fairmont Waterfront’s Herons Restaurant range from Top Seared Halibut to Pan Seared Sablefish.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts’ dedication to the protection of the environment goes well beyond helping conserve species that reside in the sea. On a wide-ranging basis, the luxury hotel brand maintains a comprehensive commitment to purchasing local, organic and sustainable food items whenever possible. But it’s important to note that good environmental practices do not mean guests at Fairmont restaurants miss out on world-class cuisine.  Instead, they feast on various fish caught or sourced in ways that ensure their continued survival.

For close to two decades, Fairmont has strived to minimize its impact on the planet through its award-winning Green Partnership program, a comprehensive platform focused on key areas such as waste reduction, energy management, water conservation, and innovative community outreach programs. In a sign of corporate leadership, the company also encourages others to follow in its footsteps and has developed the Green Partnership Guide, a how-to text that any company can obtain to create or grow their environmental programming.  For more information on Fairmont’s Green Partnership program, please visit www.fairmont.com/environment.

Photo courtesy of here.

Um, actually, he WON’T be having the Chilean sea bass, THANKS (Day 328)…

January 22, 2008

ian at moma

This is one of my bestest friends, Ian. He works in policy for the provincial government’s e-health program, likes ironic meditation and isn’t too bad in the kitchen. We’ve known each other for 15 years, so there’s no need for politesse when we hang out together — it’s all bluntness, all the time.

Some of you may remember my recent jaunt to New York — well, Ian came with me on that trip, and it was probably the first time he’s seen my green lifestyle up close. He made fun of my myrrh-based mouthwash, put up with my grumbling about how ugly bangs get without proper blow drying and indulged in my fanatical shopping sprees at every local design store in Brooklyn (I, in turn, put up with him checking his luggage).

Anyway, while we were in Greenwich, we went to this amazing restaurant called Sushi Samba. There was so much to choose from on the menu and we were on a roll — every bite was followed by simultaneous looks at one another of, “Oh my god, are you tasting what I’m tasting? Because I’m tasting something between heaven and ambrosia.”

But in the midst of our ordering frenzy, I heard the waiter suggest the Chilean sea bass, then heard Ian agree to this, and just couldn’t let it happen. I interrupted, explained why this was not cool (it’s practically endangered, to say the least), and he agreed to order something else.

Yes, we were eating lots of other fish, and I didn’t have my SeaChoice list of which ones were good, bad or mediocre in terms of sustainability, but for whatever reason I got my back up about the sea bass (technically called a Patagonia toothfish, which sounds far less appetizing, no?).

This is something that happens a lot in my life now: People around me do something bad for the environment, and I have to decide whether to point it out or let it slide. Part of me doesn’t want to impose my judgment on others, but another part wants to create a gentle ripple effect and spread my newfound green knowledge. I mean, on the one hand, speaking out for Mother Nature is an integral part of being an environmentalist, but on the other hand, self-righteous hippies are annoying.

Ian said afterwards that he thought I handled the situation appropriately — I didn’t create a fuss, I didn’t lecture him about anything else he was ordering, I simply stated my case for why a certain dish on the menu upset me, let him make the final decision and that was that.

In the long run, I think such things will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. If the person next to me drops a Styrofoam container of leftover factory-farm meat on the sidewalk, you bet I’m going to say something. But if someone standing in front of me at the coffee shop doesn’t have a reusable thermos like I do, I might not.

However, that’s the long run. For now, I’m letting everyone know about all the things I’ve learned doing this challenge. Getting other people to be green in ways I can’t was one change, but this is about didactics — teaching, sharing and initiating dialogue whenever possible, whether it’s with a friend at a sushi restaurant or a colleague at the cafeteria.